Whether we are talking about our relationship with ourselves or our relationship with food, it is important that we feel empowered to take charge of our lives. In this podcast (episode #214) and blog, I speak with psychologist and food relationship strategist Dr. Ebony about toxic diet culture, learning how to improve your relationship with food and yourself, how to overcome power differentials in the therapy room, racial trauma and mental health, dealing with identity issues, healing from PTSD and complex trauma, and more!
Dr. Ebony strongly believes that everyone should have agency in the therapy room. Clients are the experts—everything will not work for everyone, and they know their own needs best. Therapists and mental health professionals should work alongside their clients, not over them, strategizing together and finding unique ways to move forward. Indeed, they need to constantly educate themselves so that they are culturally competent. It is important to be authentic and vulnerable, be okay with saying “I don’t know”, and avoid taking advantage of power differentials in the therapy room.
This is how Dr. Ebony approaches eating-related issues in her practice, focusing on three main areas, while being honest and vulnerable about her own experiences:
- The food relationship. If you want to improve your relationship with food, you first need to understand what your relationship to food is. What is your connection/interaction with food? What role does it play in your life? Do you ever think about this relationship, or are you just focused on losing weight or looking a specific way? What are your food expectations?
- It’s not just about losing weight. Weight-loss alone doesn’t help us understand or improve our relationship with food. A healthy relationship with food is connection-driven, not results-driven.
- Society doesn’t get to tell you what is worthy. Remind yourself constantly that your worth is not driven by your body size. Your value is not driven by how snatched your waist is. Your character is not tied to how many calories you consume. You are good enough just as you are, without any mention of your weight or body. Don’t let the shame that comes from the diet industry determine how you see your own worth as a human being.
Food is very much a “mind” thing. A large part of improving our relationship with food involves unlearning patterns of thinking and behavior and divorcing ourselves from the shame and guilt associated with modern diet culture. When you think better about your body and yourself, you can show up better. It empowers you to take control over every aspect of your life.
Many people who battle with eating issues are also dealing with body dysmorphia. This is when your image of yourself doesn’t line up with reality. To heal this, you need to tease apart what is based on evidence and what is perceived. Where did you learn that these aspects of yourself were flaws? What does that mean about you as a person in society? You need to dig deep and get to the roots of your perceptions.
As Dr. Ebony points out, eating disorders and body dysmorphia are common in many minority communities. We live in a society where many people are still fighting for basic human rights. Marginalized peoples are constantly told that they are not good enough on a communal and individual level, and they internalize these cultural judgements and stereotypes. This, in turn, results in major mental health issues like eating issues, body dysmorphia, and suicide, because they do not feel accepted as whole persons. They are constantly trying to make themselves more “normal” and look a certain way so that they will be accepted and have worth, agency or value as human beings.
This is often the case with victims of complex traumas or people suffering from PTSD. A lot of major trauma work involves helping people reclaim their power. People who have undergone major traumas tend to have a lot of self-blame and guilt, and need to regain their confidence in themselves and their sense of safety. Why? As Dr. Ebony notes, the brain likes a complete picture. If there is no complete picture, the brain tends to plug in the “holes” using your own experience; you were there, so you must be the reason for it. Self-blame often is way the mind tries to make sense of a very traumatic situation and regain control, so you can feel like you can stop it from happening again. To heal this, you must get to the root of why you are blaming yourself, so you can process and deal with what happened. and acknowledge the other person’s responsibility.
When dealing with any kind of trauma, especially racial trauma, you also need to look at the historic context. This helps people feel validated, seen and heard, and lets them know that is it okay to feel angry. It normalizes their experiences and shows them they are not “losing their mind”. Their pain is very real and very justified. Indeed, we don’t have a right to tell someone what is traumatic in their life, especially if we work in the mental health field. None of us have the right to invalidate anyone else’s story.
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4:30 What is a food relationship strategist?
7:35 Tips for improving your relationship with food and your body
21:15 What body dysmorphia is, and how to overcome it
24:23 How to heal PTSD and major traumas
27:11 How to heal racial trauma and overcome self-blame
37:00 Why are eating disorders so common in marginalized communities?
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